By: Josh Sheldon
Sportsmanship! What does it mean to you? Are you a win at all costs kind of person or do you respect those engaged in competition around you?
Around 15 years ago my Dad and I signed up to fish our first Colorado Walleye Association tournament away from our home lake. It was Sterling Reservoir, a body of water neither of us had ever fished. I had no information about the lake other than a map I purchased from Sportsmens Warehouse. At that time I was a new boat owner and all of my fishing had been from a float tube I purchased at the Pueblo K Mart for $50 on sale. I had two utility boxes with a very modest selection of curly tail jigs and jig heads. I owned maybe 6 crank baits and trolling was not yet in my arsenal. We prefished the Friday before like most the anglers and we had some success dragging crawler’s supper slow on 1/8 ounce jig heads. As is my luck, I caught a nice 4 pounder on a light blue and green jig head which quickly became the color of choice. We caught a descent number of walleye that Friday but we had trouble getting any over the 15 inch minimum size limit.
Tournament day rolls around and we go to the two spots where we caught the majority of our fish. Both were fairly unsuspecting spots along the inside cup of a river rock shore line. The spots were so unsuspecting that we fished all alone most of the day. It was a tough bite with only 15 of the 50 teams weighing fish. We weighed two Walleyes that were just big enough and took 9th place on day one. As we walked up to collect our day one check, a good chunk of the field got a look at who we were and definitely saw which boat we were in as we left the parking lot.
Day two greets us with a slight change in the weather, but all seemed to be about the same as day one. Our game plan was to do the same thing and hopefully we could grind out a couple keepers. Getting a check far exceeded my expectations for the weekend and I was pretty proud of our day one accomplishment. We took off around the middle of the pack and my 17 ½ ft aluminum Ranger with my Mercury 115 was blazing down the lake at my typical 31 mph. I noticed several boats appeared to be fairly close to us. As we approached the area where we had caught our fish from the day before those close boats swarmed us and I thought we were going to get run over. We rounded the corner and just on the other side was our little 30 yard stretch of rocky shore. As I dodged the incoming boats and came off plane I saw a sight that would change how I thought about tournament fishing for ever. Nearly every boat that left ahead of us was parked in our spot and a good chunk of the boats behind us were closing in fast. It was unbelievable to say the least. I was infuriated and in total shock. We immediately left and didn’t catch a Walleye all day. All I could remember from that tournament were the many faces looking at us as we pulled up to our spot and how they had this kiss my ass look on their face.
When I got home I immediately talked to my good friend and PWT Pro to tell him how I did. He said, “Heard you had a good first day”! I said ya and we cashed a check. He laughed and asked what happened on day two. I went off on how disgusted I was and how I couldn’t believe the lack of sportsmanship and respect. He laughed and said “you got tail piped, welcome to tournament fishing”. This was the first time I had heard this phrase, but it wouldn’t be the last time I would witness it. I have seen it done to me and friends of mine on many different occasions. A team does well on day one and on day two those less confident, unethical few decide the winning team is their best fish finder and they crowd your spot.
Sportsmanship! Fishing is much like golf in its application of the rules. Most of the rules are followed voluntarily because there isn’t someone on your boat to watch you. The rules are there for a reason and if you can’t win playing by the same rules as everyone else you need to go away. Like in golf, fishing has a few unwritten rules that should be adhered to like they were gospel. FIND YOUR OWN FISH, FIND YOUR OWN FISH, AND FIND YOUR OWN FISH. Respect those around you. If you know the boat next to you had a good first day and you know they are in the hunt, give way to them! There are plenty of fish to be had. If they are working a shoreline and you can clearly see this, do not get in behind them or cut them off to see if you can poach some fish. Most good tournament fishermen have spots within their spots. That one rock pile you troll by that always produces a fish. They will commonly work their way past several marked spots within a spot to give it a small rest before they pass back over. Please be respectful and don’t move in behind them where you just saw them catch a fish and use the excuse, “you guys left”. They didn’t leave! They went far enough past to give the spot a break from the commotion of the fight and to make sure their baits were in perfect position for the next pass.
With all this said I understand sometimes boats end up at the same spot and have figured out the same pattern. I also understand on some waters its tight quarters and it can be difficult to maneuver, but you can still exercise good character and sportsmanship while in those situations and be respectful. If you are in a large area with several boats trolling crank baits on planer boards and you see a boat coming at you and they are busy reeling in a fish, get out of their way! Don’t be “that guy” who refused to move because you were headed that direction first. Let them concentrate on getting the fish in. I can’t tell you how many times I have netted a fish and turned around to see another boat passing so close to see what we caught they become tangled in our boards. Just STOP and think for a minute. Apply some SPORTSMANSHIP and COMMON SENSE.
Talk to each other out there. I can recall a specific tournament where a person I highly respect was working a shoreline ahead of a very small area we had been fishing. He knew we were on fish because of the constant netting of fish and as he approached us he called out “great job guys, I am going to slip around the outside of you. Let me know if I get too close”. The second my feet hit the beach at weigh in I found him and shook his hand and told him how much I appreciated his respect.
If you are new to tournament fishing or have been fishing tournaments for a long time, these rules of sportsmanship and respect are good reminders for the sport of tournament fishing. They are good reminders for all times on the water. Colorado like many other places has limited water and limited space. It is drastically important we as tournament anglers set a good example and show each other respect during competition. Always think of it this way; someday that first place team working a very small sensitive spot within a spot maybe you and there is nothing worse than rounding that corner and seeing half the field on your spot! Be kind to one another and help promote good sportsman ship.